Sonoma County reached a long-awaited milestone, entering the Red Tier of the Governor’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan. On March 14 we saw hungry diners returning to indoor restaurants and fitness buffs hitting the gym indoors for the first time in months. I am grateful to our many business owners, who have long awaited this moment, for going above and beyond to maintain safety protocols including limiting capacity, masking, and social distancing to keep their employees and our community safe.
While everyone is figuring out his or her own comfort level as the county reopens, I urge you to support our local businesses in any way you can, new or old – dine in, order take-out, shop with curbside pick-up, get a good work-out, and keep our community afloat!
The red tier also affords new opportunities for schools. Under the red tier, all grade levels can begin in-person learning under the state’s updated guidance for K-12 schools.
A COVID-19 Safety Plan is, of course, still required for schools to reopen, and must include detailed information on testing protocols, how contact tracing will be handled, the logistics of student drop-off, room spacing, air ventilation, and much more. Additionally, the plan must be posted on a school’s website homepage for five days prior to a school reopening. I hope this opportunity brings some comfort and hope to our educators, students, and families, who have weathered the challenges of remote learning gracefully and with admirable patience.
Even with the encouraging reopening news, we have not lost sight of the topic on everyone’s mind: the vaccine. Sonoma County has now (on March 20) surpassed 200,000 vaccine doses administered. This means nearly 17 percent of our population aged 16 and over is now fully vaccinated while 35 percent is partially vaccinated. And now, Sonoma County residents with underlying health conditions age 16 to 64 are eligible for the vaccine, as well as workers in several additional industries. Find out more about eligibility and appointments at SoCoEmergency.org/vaccine.
I know that many of you, including those who are eligible and those not yet eligible, are anxiously awaiting your turn for an appointment, and I hear your frustration as vaccine supply continues to be limited. Though we have the capacity to vaccinate 40,000 per week, we are receiving only around 8,000 doses per week. There is some hope that this might be shifting—this week we saw a slight increase in our supply, which allowed County supplied clinics, Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa Health Centers, to begin offering some first doses for the first time in weeks. Additionally, the invocation of the Defense Production Act by President Biden gives me hope that in the coming months we will see far more supply coming into our county.
Earlier this month, Sonoma County began the transition to the Third Party Administrator (TPA) system, which means our vaccination allocations for different clinics and providers will be set by Blue Shield. This is part of the state’s decision to have all counties operating under one standard by one agency. Once this is fully implemented around April 1, Blue Shield will have the responsibility for storing and distributing the vaccines instead of the County. Our staff in our COVID and vaccination programs have been talking to Blue Shield daily to hammer out the details and ensure our community continues to be served.
Blue Shield has expressed appreciation for all of the work the County has done and has committed to work with us when deciding where clinics should be and how vaccines are allocated to different providers, as we are really the experts in our local community.